Major Spanish banks have said that a split between Catalonia and Spain would be a serious threat to financial stability in the northeastern region, where a looming election is being framed by local leaders as a vote on independence.
Spain’s two main banking lobby groups AEB and CECA, whose members include Santander, BBVA and Barcelona-based Caixabank, warned secession could force lenders to consider leaving the region. Banks and businesses in Spain, especially those with deep roots in Catalonia, had until now been reluctant to wade into the stand-off between the region and the government in Madrid and take sides.
Political parties campaigning for Catalonia to break away from Spain - including that of current regional premier Artur Mas - have pledged to deliver independence within 18 months if they win a majority on 27 September in the local parliament. Opinion polls show pro-secession parties could win a slim majority of seats but fall short of getting half the vote, which could prolong the stalemate with the central government, analysts say.
Still, the bank lobby groups sounded an alarmist note over the prospect of a split which could force the region to leave the European Union and the euro zone. If banks had to reconsider their presence in Catalonia as a result, “that could in turn risk weakening the offer from lenders, and lead to more financial exclusion, hurt the availability of credit and raise the cost (of credit),” the AEB and CECA said in a joint statement. The groups called on political leaders to resort to dialogue.
Spain’s centre-right government, which also faces a general election by the end of the year, has strongly opposed Catalan independence, blocking bids to hold a Scotland-style referendum on secession in the region. Madrid has so far offered no olive branches to Catalonia on greater autonomy.